Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Sunglasses

The SNEWS® team of editors went into the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show with eyes wide open, looking for the latest trends and new products for the sunglasses market.
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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order), ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking beer too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for Sunglasses:

As noticeable as who was at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was who wasn't when it came to sunglasses. Since it now has such a ridiculous amount of money and market share, Oakley (aka Big O) apparently doesn't feel it needs to bother with outdoor specialty anymore -- a shame. The Luxotica brands (Arnette, Killer Loop, RayBan and Revo) were all absent. Kaenon didn't have a booth but says it will be back in the winter; seems odd for a company that doesn't offer goggles to miss the prime selling season.

As we noted in GearTrends® magazine (read our recent article on sunglasses in the Summer Outdoor 2005 issue by clicking here -- www.geartrends.com/magazines), there is a significant increase in sunglasses made with polymer lenses. This new technology may soon rival polycarbonate which is the current industry standard for sport sunglasses. Polymers go by many names -- NXT is one brand used by several companies -- but most are based on polyurethane and share similar properties.

With the Big O gearing up to enter the photochromic lens market next year, it's likely that consumers will be seeing a lot more advertising for lenses that darken and lighten according to the conditions. The technology has been around for years, but is only now getting refined to the point that it's practical for outdoor sports (early generations were too slow to respond to light changes and far too temperature sensitive).

While interchangeable lenses are nothing new, they have often been plagued by durability issues and fingerprints. Now four different companies -- The North Face, Ryders, Smith and Zeal -- are offering modular sunglasses with the lenses encased in their own frame that then snaps to the outer frame. These systems are particularly useful for prescription lenses and may grow in popularity for plano (non-prescription) lenses. However, Ryders claims to have a patent-pending on the concept so legal tussles may be on the horizon.

Coyote - This brand of polarized sunglasses has carved out a niche in the mid-price category with most models retailing in the $75 range. For the most part, these are fashion-oriented shades (they have appeared in 16 Hollywood movies and eight TV shows) but the models with polycarbonate (majority of the line) are suitable for outdoor sports. The newest additions to the line are three rimless models (HDP-1, -2 and -3) that feature polymer lenses and stainless-steel frames with spring hinges and retail for $80. The one-time, no-fault warranty (receipt required) may also appeal to customers who are hard on their gear.

Julbo - Already a dominant player in glacier glasses, Julbo has its eyes set on the emerging kids' market. Until recently, just about all of the sunglasses sold specifically for children were pretty much garbage or they were expensive women's models that still fit poorly.

Considering all the strollers and rug rats we trip over in the aisles of Outdoor Retailer trade shows these days, it's a fair conclusion that there are lots of outdoor parents who want to outfit their tykes with decent eyewear that won't break the bank.

Julbo already has nine models of good quality kids' glasses under $30 that have been very popular and are very, very good -- read our SNEWS® Product Review of the Loop here. To that, it is adding four new models: the Neve ($30) is a modern glacier style with side shields and dark lenses, the Match ($35) also offers good protection in medium lens, while the Play ($35) and Noa ($25) are all about style.

Adults aren't left out either. The Airline MT ($65) is a metal half-frame, interchangeable lens sport style. And the Instinct ($89) features photochromic lenses in a sleek nylon frame. Several models in the line are now available with NXT polymer lenses and more are likely to come.

Native - This brand earned its reputation on polarized polycarbonate lenses at a moderate price and keystone pricing. Of the 11 styles in the Native line, seven feature interchangeable lenses. All of these models include four sets of lenses (only one is polarized) and a case. The latest addition to this collection is the Hardtop ($130), a half-frame sport style that also include interchangeable temples (normal and with retainer strap). Native includes a lifetime $20 replacement policy for all models as an extra enticement for customers.

The North Face - Moving the eyewear division out of the isolation of the upstairs TNF-enclave near the main show entrance into its own booth in the Pavilion was a good call. This line is more a product of the Marcolin Group (a powerhouse Italian eyewear company whose brands include Cébé and Dolce & Gabbana) than that of TNF/Vanity Fair; worldwide distribution is through Marcolin and its agents.

Among the most eye-catching shades at the show was the new Thin Air ($200), a sophisticated mountain sunglass system. The modular vented lenses have their own frame that attaches to the outer frame. An inner frame with foam gaskets and side shields snaps out and an optional summer shield snaps in for better ventilation. The slickest part is the built-in retainer strap that hides inside the temples when not in use.

Of course, the Thin Air is a showpiece for an extensive line of sport and street eyewear (and five models of goggles). The performance and features appear to rival other high-end brands.

Optic Nerve
- With nearly its entire line retailing for under $50, Optic Nerve has a good segment of the low-to-mid-price market. The new Rodango ($59) is a monoshield design that looks like a conventional dual-lens style. On the fashion front, the Indigo and Pneumatic ($48) feature toric lenses (greater curves side-to-side than top-to-bottom) for better optical performance in a wrap-around style. Also new is the brand's first snow goggles, the 4Fifty, which features a rose-colored dual lens and will retail for $54.

Rudy Project
- Certainly this high-end brand is best known in the cycling and triathlon worlds, but the technical features appeal to the outdoor market as well. With prices ranging from $120 to $290, Rudy Project delivers all the bells and whistles with unmatched quality. Next season, 12 models of its sport glasses will have the option of NXT lenses in either red photochromic (low to medium light), grey photochromic (medium to bright light), or grey polarized photochromic. Rudy is backing up this new polymer story with strong POS merchandising aids including counter cards, lens displays, and a block of NXT material that stopped a bullet. A marketing campaign will also spread the word so if customers haven't heard of NXT yet, they will soon.

Ryders - Started by a former mountain bike racer, this Canadian brand has always emphasized affordability and performance -- most of the fixed lens models are under $40 (polarized models are $59 - $89). Its latest interchangeable model, the Freefall ($69), features three sets of lenses in their own frames that snap into the outer frame. However, a person could buy two pairs of the new Sprint ($39) in different tints and not have to mess with swapping lenses at all while still paying less than a single premium sunglass.

Smith - Certainly, the Slider line of interchangeable sunglasses has long been a success story so it wisely remains unchanged next season. What will garner Smith attention this fall are the several new models of polycarbonate polarized sunglasses including two half-frame styles with nylon frames (Specialist and Commander) and two rimless models with titanium frames (Venture and Tycoon). The Cause and Effect are two neo-retro look street models with thick nylon frames. The new Haven and Maverick offer the brand's first polarized photochromic lenses as an option -- this technology is likely to spread to other models eventually.

XPO - One of the newest players in the sunglasses market, XPO is all about polarization. Most of the models feature polycarbonate lenses and high-quality aluminum alloy frames with retail prices ranging from $120 to $140. The latest entries are the Anchor (sleek full frame) and Pioneer (stylish half-frame), both of which will retail for $160 in either grey or brown polarized lenses. This line doesn't have huge marketing exposure, though the parent company (De'Von Optics) has been around for two decades, so it will require salesmanship by retailers to explain the benefits.

Zeal - Like Ryders, this is another sunglasses brand started by mountain bike racers. However, Zeal has targeted the upper mid-range of price and performance and offers some innovative features. While the brand has numerous lens tints available, it is particularly proud of a copperish tint it calls ZB-13 which is available with and without polarization. The latest sunglass models include the sporty Maestro ($130) with nylon frame and metal temples and the stylish Juice ($100) which is an interchangeable lens model for women. The unique Diverge ($100) is the first rimless metal frame to offer interchangeable lenses; it comes with the polarized copper lenses and has the option of either grey or yellow polarized lenses.

While not new, the Swap-it ($150) is a truly modular sunglass system that features lenses with different gaskets for use in watersports, land sports and casual. Also noteworthy is Zeal's Detonator PPX snow goggles ($150) which feature a lens that is both polarized and photochromic -- possibly the Holy Grail for skiers and snowboarders.

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